Experiencing a spirituality festival as a secular Humanist

By Katie MacFadyen
13 Aug 2012

The Festival of Sprituality and Peace in Edinburgh (3-27 August 2012) is an Interfaith and intercultural event; there are Jewish, Islamic, Christian and Daoist events, for example, as well as artists from every contintent but Antarctica.

The focus is on diversity and co-operation, and above all on being all-inclusive, without simply blurring edges and boundaries.

But what is the relationship between 'interfaith' and 'no faith'? Where do Secular Humanists fall in this atmosphere of inclusivity?

The question of whether Humanism and theism are or can be compatible is a difficult one. Many Humanist organisations insist that Humanism necessitates scepticism, secularism, and rejection of all supernatural phenomena, but at the same time there are religious individuals who happily identify as Humanists. So is Humanism compatible with the Festival of Spirituality and Peace?

As a Humanist and a Festival media intern and blogger, I clearly think so. Though I do have the occasional disconcerting moment when I find myself, a lifelong atheist, sitting alongside a bookshelf of hymn books writing blurbs for prayer meetings, at its heart I find the spirit of the Festival of Spirituality and Peace very close to that of Humanism as I experience it.

Modern Humanism draws on spiritual backgrounds including Confucism, Buddhism, ancient Indian philosophy and Christian teachings. The principles behind Humanism are love, humanity, and above all community. One of the big draws of Humanism is being part of a non-religious philosophical community that brings together a diverse range of people.

Most critically, Humanism is about rationality, and about making sense of the world using reason and empiricism. In this sense, Humanism is compatible with any religion willing to question and re-evaluate itself when necessary. Many of FoSP's conversation events such as Disorganised Religion (Thursday August 9) and Women in Religion (Tuesday August 21) are very much in the rational spirit of Humanism.

Is the difference between ‘faith’ and ‘no faith’ really as stark as it seems? There are religious Humanists; there are atheists who identify as Christian. When it comes down to it, we all want a better world, and we all have faith that we can achieve it. In this sense, Humanist philosophy, despite its lack of overt spirituality, is not only compatible with Festival of Spirituality and Peace but at the heart of it.

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(c) Katie MacFadyen is a fourth year student of Classics at the University of Edinburgh, about to start a dissertation in Reception Studies: the study of how classics is and has been used in subsequent cultural contexts. She also writes speculative fiction and theatre, as well as film and book reviews. Her theatre reviews from the Fringe Festival 2011 can be found on http://thenewkid.co.uk and http://somesuchlike.wordpress.com. She is a media intern for the Festival of Spirituality and Peace 2012 and contributes regularly to Spirituality and Peace News (http://festivalofspirituality.blogspot.co.uk/).

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